Why F1 steering wheels have over 20 buttons – and what they all do

F1 technology

F1 steering wheels serve an obvious and important function. But F1 drivers use them to do much more than just point the car in the right direction.

This year designers have had to squeeze in buttons for Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems and Drag Reduction Systems along with the usual array of toggles, switches and levers.

Now F1 is being broadcast in high definition it’s easier for us to see what the driver’s up to at the wheel.

This video from Mercedes gives an introduction to some of the settings their drivers have to tweak while they’re on the move:

Here’s a closer look at Sauber’s steering wheel and what their drivers have to control while lapping at over 200mph:

Sauber steering wheel

Sauber steering wheel

Button Function
N Puts gearbox into neutral
B Activates Kinetic Energy Recovery System
Oil Activates supplementary oil tank for engine
KRec (dial) KERS recovery setting
Ack / Yes Acknowledge to confirm set-up changes. Also used when the driver’s radio is not working properly to indicate a ‘Yes’ response
Probl/No Sets a marker in the telemetry to indicate a problem was encountered. Also used when the driver’s radio is not working properly to indicate a ‘No’ response
Entry / Prel / Visco (dials) Change differential settings for corner entry, pre-load and corner exit
MFRS (dial) Multifunctional Rotary Switch (centre dial) which controls various settings. Used in conjunction with + and – buttons to change options
PL Turn pit lane speed limiter on/off
BP Find clutch bite point
W Activates Drag Reduction System
R Radio
Pedal (dial) Change throttle pedal map
Box Used when the driver’s radio is not working properly to indicate the driver is coming into the pits
D Drink bottle
Krel (dial) KERS release setting
RPM RPM limiter
Tyre Adjust electronics to suit different tyres
Left gear paddle Shift down a gear
Right gear paddle Shift up a gear
Lower levers Clutch

In addition to the various controls, drivers also receive information via the lights on the steering wheel.

On the Sauber steering wheel the displays are:

  • RPM indicator (upper LEDs)
  • FIA flag signals (left and right LEDs)
  • Gear selection (centre LED)
  • Speed and sector times / MFRS options (left and right screens)

On some cars, such as the Red Bull, this display cluster is mounted behind the steering wheel.

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104 comments on Why F1 steering wheels have over 20 buttons – and what they all do

  1. Damon (@damon) said on 22nd April 2011, 13:50

    Which button do I press for my team to tell Felipe that I’m way faster than him?

  2. DaveW (@dmw) said on 22nd April 2011, 14:38

    No pause button. Major oversight.

    I thought I heard that Mercedes had their DWS activated with a pedal, at least for Schumacher. Given that he made left-foot braking standard in F1, found that interesting. A pedal-operated DWS would be ideal if you could feather the wing, instead of just changing to one of two positions. I would love to see the drivers actively managing the aero through the whole track. Driving as well as “flying” the car.

    • JerseyF1 (@jerseyf1) said on 22nd April 2011, 21:43

      Some might prefer an “undo” button

    • This is why they limit it to just a place where you need almost no downforce. They don’t want to create artificial racing and make it another thing which teams can take advantage with clever engineering.

      By 2013 they plan on having even more limited aero above and are going to focus on under the car aerodynamics to create downforce thereby fixing the problem of dirty air. That is their hope, and it is all of this dirty air dirty tricks that had turned F1 into a race where it is difficult to pass.

      They just want to make the race more exciting for everyone, lets hope they continue getting it right and succeeding.

  3. Bigbadderboom said on 22nd April 2011, 14:47

    Good I struggle with my cruise control and radio settings ;). I would have though there would be more moans from the purists demanding that all they should have is a stick shift, brake, accelarator and clutch. And if they wanted a drink then they should have a cup holder! Doesn’t all these controls make F1 too synthetic? A joke (Obviously) but realistically where is the line drawn, we all complain about codemasters making f1 not simmy enough but isn’t f1 becoming too gamey with all this buttons and dials? Not sure I like too many gimmicks that adapt the conditions to the car, I would appreciate a driver more if they managed the variables through driving and not changing the cars setup to match the track conditions.

  4. dyslexicbunny said on 22nd April 2011, 15:26

    That’s more complicated than my Saitek flight stick and throttle.

  5. SennaNmbr1 (@sennanmbr1) said on 22nd April 2011, 16:08

    Where’s the red shell button?

  6. Fred Schechter said on 22nd April 2011, 16:26

    Ok, so here’s my question, in the video Nico mentions a light comes on when it’s ok to use the DRS (rear wing)
    so does that mean

    1.It’s calibrated to the location on the track where it’s use is allowed (gps/telemetry)

    or

    2.Is there radar/laser on the car to detect how far back it is from the next car?

    Also,, as Kieth mentioned,, WHAT ELSE IS ON THE BACK OF THE WHEEL!? (I’d love to know!)

    • JCF1 (@jcf1) said on 22nd April 2011, 17:09

      DRS is monitored by the stewards, who monitor every gap and location and allow DRS to be activated by link to the cars computers. This keeps it fair (well, as fair as you believe the stewards currently are).

    • Baremans said on 22nd April 2011, 18:39

      stewards and race control use the GPS-based system that monitors each car’s position on the track. the necessary software auto-activates the DRS at the right time for the eligble cars

      • It’s actually based on a timing loop on the track fot the gap detection, and distance covered during the lap for the activation.

        The GPS system is not reliable enough by itself to do that, and actually relies on additional trigger loops on track for correction and extrapolation of the positions. The system used for GPS (F1 Marshalling System) is however used to communicate to the car that activating the DRS will be allowed.

  7. Toro Stevo (@toro-stevo) said on 22nd April 2011, 16:40

    Where’s the button where Red Bull can turn down the revs of a specific driver, ala 2010 Webber in Turkey, Vettel in Italy?

    Oh wait, that’s controlled in the pit garage.

  8. graigchq said on 22nd April 2011, 16:58

    Oh my god I want one of those….

  9. How long before we have “Weapon Select”?

  10. Elliot Horwood said on 22nd April 2011, 19:15

    Anyone know why he isnt allowed to show us the back of steering wheel??

    • F1Yankee (@f1yankee) said on 22nd April 2011, 22:14

      because merc thinks the back of their wheel is trickier or more optimized than the competition, and they don’t want to give it away. i suspect they’re all similar: upshift (left and right), downshift below that (left and right) and clutch 1 & 2. i think ferrari are running the DRS off of a 7th paddle.

      • Ral said on 23rd April 2011, 0:31

        I thought Ferrari’s DRS was foot-pedal controlled.

      • SMB said on 23rd April 2011, 0:32

        McLaren have a pretty clever shifter on the back of their wheel. Rather than two separate paddles they have a see-saw style paddle connected to the wheel in the middle so you shift up by pulling the right side and down by pulling the left side but you could also shift up by pushing the left side away from you and visa-versa. So you can change gear in either direction with only 1 hand on the wheel.

        Mercedes might have something similar because not all teams use this.

  11. I know that they monitor all these knobs at the paddock and could directly control them if allowed. But since they are not allowed to ‘help’ or interfere with the driver like that….I wonder…
    Is it allowable to light up a button to tell the driver he should adjust it or be using it?

  12. Soon they’ll just use a touchscreen so they can have more controls,,, just go to the F1-App Store to get more controls. Then the clever teams could sell the apps at a million a piece with a percentage going to Bernie.

  13. rubin1909 said on 23rd April 2011, 8:45

    I think one of the major things as well, is that:
    a)- The driver will know themselves when and when not to use the various buttons/dials etc
    and
    B) – Not all of them will be used in the race. i.e the clutch is only really for the start. etc.

  14. MattHT (@mattht) said on 24th April 2011, 12:06

    The Sauber one looks like the hand grips are velvet. Amazing.

  15. Jarred Walmsley (@jarred-walmsley) said on 24th April 2011, 23:50

    Just been watching that video, it doesn’t sound like Nico has much of a german accent at all, any one know why that is?

    • Butler258 said on 25th April 2011, 20:31

      As far as i have read he pretty much spent all of his youth in Monaco, and only races under a german license because his passport is german

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